The Appeal of the Literary Leading Man

Superpower: knocking socks off.

John Thornton vs. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Superpower: knocking socks off.

Swept off your literary feet lately? If you have, then you’re preaching to the choir.

I can’t even begin to explain  the degree of vertigo I’ve experienced from being swept off my feet by characters ranging from Mr. Thornton (North and South) to Amon Bryne (Seven Realms Series), and everyone in between. And by “in between” I’m talking, Ron Weasley, Percy Jackson, Gale Hawthorne, Atticus Finch, Thorin Oakenshield, Faramir, Jay Gatsby, Simon Lewis, Peter Pan, Edward Ferrars, Finnick Odair, Han Alistair and Robb Stark. And that’s just the shortlist.

There’s a certain appeal of reading characters that are so insurmountably different from each other, but pluck at the same heartstrings. But my question is: how!? How do they do it? There must be some shared and inherent characteristic about these fellows that leaves them so appealing on the pages.

The search for that common denominator is on! But before this scavenger hunt begins, let’s outline how a leading man differs from their other run-of-the-mill XY-chromosome counterparts.

Definition: Fictional leading man [ˈliːdɪŋ] (noun): A character, imaginary, who contributes to the development of the plot through a combination of symbolic gestures, swoon-worthy one-liners and a penchant for arriving in the nick of time. Must be relatively endearing using one or more of humor, sarcasm or punctuality. A humble disposition never hurt either.

That’s not asking for too much. A leading man who can brood, but sarcastically. Who can ramble, but endearingly. Check your realistic expectations at the door, because we don’t need any Debbie Downers raining on our bibliophilic parade.

So, here’s a list of my top 8 Fictional Leading Men, and the characteristics that make them so appealing. The aim – to find that one thing that threads them all together.

8.  Jon Snow (Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin)

  • – The Outcast 
  • – Independent and clever, despite having been placed second to his brother Robb his entire life.
  • – Loyal, but a little naive. It’s his tragic flaw.
  • – Introverted and honest. It’s nice to see a character who isn’t arrogant to the moon and back.
  • – He is challenged since infancy with not knowing who his mother is, and never belonging with the Starks. Growing up without a proper family and still turning out decently sane definitely deserves some accolades.


7. Noah Calhoun (The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks)

  • – The Patient One
  • – Has an endearing, quiet resolve.
  • – His goals are aimed high, he expects the stars and isn’t afraid of pursuing them even if failure is a risk
  • – Likes to live simply and slowly; appreciates little details
  • – Patience is his biggest virtue: with Allie, his friends and the house he builds.


6. Gale Hawthorne (Hunger Games, Susanne Collins)

  • – The Anti-Hero. 
  • – He is the anti-hero to Peeta Mellark’s blonde-haired glory. But, he put’s his feelings for Katniss aside and still treats Peeta with respect.
  • – Overlooked by others but tries to contribute to the cause of overthrowing the Capital the best he can.
  • – He isn’t anyone’s beacon or hero, despite working tirelessly with District 13 and the survivors of District 12, and he isn’t Katniss’ first pick when she must choose between him or Peeta. But, the ambition that Gale has when fighting the Capitol and his take-no-prisoners approach to solving the problem is a tribute to his quiet but threatening personality!


5.  Theodore Laurence aka “Laurie” (Little Women, Louisa May Alcott)

  • – The Confidante 
  • – Growing up amidst a group of girls can’t be a easy undertaking for any man, but Laurie is just so damn endearing.
  • – Crooked smile, penchant for adventure, love for books and learning – I don’t even know him and I still feel like I could tell him everything.


4. Amon Byrne (The Seven Realms Series, Cinda Williams Chima)

  • – The Moral One 
  • – Amon’s sturdy stoicism is one of my favorite qualities about him. He sacrifices a lot, emotionally throughout the duration of the series but his loyalty is evident. He is Raisa’s moral compass and protector, and although they don’t end up together its admirable that he places their friendship above any petty feelings he may otherwise have.


3. Tobias “Four” Eaton (Divergent, Veronica Roth)

  • – The Complicated One
  • – Tobias is layer upon layer of soft and rough edges, and that’s probably why he’s garnered such a large fan following.
  • – He risks a lot to protect Tris – deleting her simulation results, going in after Tris when he doesn’t agree with some of the choices she’s made. And let’s not forget how he beat up Drew so badly that his face resembled mashed potato, after Drew, Peter and Al attacked Tris.
  • – He’s brave, despite his fears.
  • – He can jump in and out of moving trains at will.


2. Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee)

  • – The Mature One
  • – He takes the moral high ground, raises his children with dignity and is so well-spoken that it could make anyone weak in the knees.
  • -Believes in equality and justice during a very corrupt period in time.
  • – The hair – immaculate.


1. John Thornton (North and South, Elisabeth Gaskell)

  • – The Equal
  • – He treats Margaret like she’s completely his equal – whether it’s during their fights or their business talks. More relatable than any typical romance is a relationship that demonstrates that two people can be hot-headed and still respectful of each other.
  • – Thornton is the refined Mr.Darcy, in my opinion.
  • – Richard Armitage plays him in the BBC version – just let that sink in.


It’s the common thread of independence in character that connects the fictional leading men into this list. I still can’t narrow it down to one specific quality that leads to the instant appeal of a literary leading man, and my preferences change with every book I read – so all I can say is that I’m looking forward to expanding this list and making my real life expectations for a leading man skyrocket exponentially.


Perfect your inner nerd: A how-to.

I’ve never had an aversion to making a joke or two on my own behalf; better that, than having someone else beat you to it. And when your personality consists of awkward comments half the time, and hilariously misunderstood science jokes for the rest, you usually end up becoming punchline-fodder for the rest of the world around you.

What really solidifies the nerd status, however, is the level of pride I feel at brandishing my emblem of nerdiness in my conversations, through my friendships and in my work. Its quickly become a defining feature of mine, so I thought I was qualified to offer a few bits of advice to aspiring nerds out there, hoping to elevate their status from punchline-fodder to personality-emblem.

And here we go: 5 ways to perfect your inner nerd.

1. Perfect your “book browsing” stance. Head tilted to one side, feet crossed at the ankle, book held in one hand (elbow tucked in) with the other hand intelligently stroking your chin or flipping through the pages.

2. Perfect your shifty eyes. Nerds rarely are able to hold eye contact for extended periods of time (or maybe just this nerd). Therefore, perfect the shifty eyes to look more “wandering” instead of “shifty” by drawing your attention to specific objects of merit instead of spastically whizzing them back and forth.

3. Perfect your exaggerated hand motions. You may find yourself having a penchant of trying to get your point across by waving your arms, twisting your fingers and generally becoming a nuisance by how much you use hand gestures in conversations. Stop it. Reign it in. There’s a delicate balance of assigning hand motions to words and phrases and almost physically assaulting someone mid-conversation. Nerd-sophistication evolves with time, so use those hand motions as a tool for comedic genius, not for bodily harm.

4. Perfect the ratio of scientific:pop culture references. I’d say that anytime is a good time for a Darwinning joke. But … is it? Perhaps aiming for a 3:1 ratio of science to pop culture references per conversation is a good goal. That way, your nerd flag flies proud, while you still prove that you’re still worth spending time with by knowing what’s going on in other aspects of your world.

Cheat: Talk about Doctor Who – it basically falls into both categories, and talking about it for hours is SO wonderful! Same goes for any Tolkien or Sherlock references as well. 

5. Perfect your “recovery”. The “I meant to do that” just isn’t going to cut it, this day in age, after you have a terrible flub-up (falls, snorts, tripping, gaffes, verbal spewage etc). It’s inevitable that you’re going to say/do something unconventional, embarrassing or over-the-top in the near future. Perfect one or both of the following: your recovery or your exit strategy. I’d suggest the best recovery as being the “hide your face in your hands and nervously laugh” and the best exit strategy as “quickly, discretely and not into a glass wall or door”.

(Example of someone who has perfected these rules AND more: Zachary Levi)

There are so many more life-lessons I’ve picked up just over the last few years on how to climb the ladder to nerdiness – but these are tried, tested and true. Hopefully they tide you over for the time being – remember it’s not the end goal, but the journey that’s really important. Spread your wings and soar little nerds.


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